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Kiezdeutsch as an urban dialect: local linguistic integration vs. societal marginalisation

Oliver Bunk, Inès Lamari, Heike Wiese
(Universität Potsdam)
In our talk, we discuss a contact dialect, Kiezdeutsch "(neighbour-)hood German", as part of Berlin's urban linguistic landscape. This urban contact dialect emerged in mixed speech communities of young, locally-born Berliners of different multilingual and monolingual German backgrounds. At micro and meso levels of speakers and local communities, Kiezdeutsch is used to indicate peer-group identity, signalling a selective choice from larger linguistic repertoires that also include more standard-close and formal versions of German. The local setting for Kiezdeutsch is characterised by a high linguistic diversity with rich language contact opportunities and an integration of linguistic practices including code switching and mixing and horizontal multilingualism. This setting supports a linguistic dynamic that takes up and further develops ongoing tendencies of language variation and change in German, making Kiezdeutsch something like a pioneer dialect and an integral part of the linguistic landscape of German. In sharp contrast to this, at the macro level of the larger society, Kiezdeutsch is perceived as an inferior and deficient form of communication, an indication of linguistic incompetence, a threat to the German language and, ultimately, to social cohesion. Its speakers are constructed as social and ethnic 'Others', including a perceptual erasure of monolingual majority speakers as part of its speech community. We discuss the underlying 'us/them' dichotomies that become apparent from the public discourse on Kiezdeutsch, and analyse a key narrative on German and its dialects that supports such dichotomies and indicates a transposition of social (including 'ethnic') demarcations onto the linguistic plane.